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‘Tis the season to be giving: karma-boosting gifts

NMFSC_048_1212_v2 ethical guideMy family stopped exchanging Christmas gifts a good 15 years ago. My sister, in med school at the time, told us she just didn’t have time to shop for us (pshaw, what an excuse!). And just like that, the whole card castle crumbled and we gave up the whole swapping tradition ever since.  Instead, we just hang out, laugh and eat as much as humanly possible. There is one exception to the rule: kids. If you’re under 18 you’ll still on the “nice” list and will get gifts beyond love and hugs.

Whoever’s still on your gift list this year, make sure you’re opting for options that aren’t muddying your karma. I’m including my ethical giving guide (above) and my toy guide (below) for a survey of some of what’s out there. Just click on each image to lead you to my guides in NOW. Oh and check out my DIY gifts of the week each week to get some super last-minute ideas made with 100% upcycled and/or local/organic ingredients. Happy holidays!

NMFSC_037_1219 toys


Busting lice & the campaign against hormone disruptors

Lice guide

Hey kids, After taking a few weeks off work to get away from it all and unplug, I’m digging back in the vaults to share the columns that have been running while I was living the Luddite life!

First up, got something crawling on your scalp and it ain’t just a bad feeling? Well, have no fear Ecoholic is here with a breakdown of all your options, both toxic and non…and yes, you can get a grip on the situation without resorting to nasty pesticides banned from lawns but allowed on heads. Plus you’ll get a roundup of the latest heavyweight campaigns to get hormone disruptors out of our products for good. For the full column read on here.

Mouth piece: from lipstick to grow-your-own student lunches


The latest Ecoholic offers up a collage of goodies. We kick things off with a lipstick/gloss product testing guide, prompted by a recent study on heavy metals in lip products. Then we circle back to #betterbacktoschool brigade issues, in week 3 of our collaboration with the David Suzuki Foundation’s Queen of Green Tovah Paglaro.

This week’s brigade theme is detoxing schools, so I interviewed one of the leading Canadian organizations working to get a major form of toxins – junk food – out of school cafeterias and student lunches. They’re also bringing nature into schools and students into nature by getting them to role up their sleeves and grow their own veggies. Actually, the farmers’ market near me in Toronto even has a FoodShare School Grown veggie tent where you can buy produce straight from students. Pretty awesome! Definitely inspired and hopefully inspiring for schools across the country.

You can read all about it, as well as our Greenwash of the Week (which just so happens to be a school binder) in the latest issue of NOW.


What’s lurking in diaper creams, umbilical cords & more


As a label hunter, I find toxins in all sorts of weird places (lube, douches, just to name a Photo1few), but there’s nothing more outrageous than pollutants in products designed for use by children. Case in point: what the hell are propyl paraben doing in diaper creams like Li’l Goat’s and Aveeno Baby when these preservatives have been outlawed in children’s articles in Denmark because of their hormone-disrupting potential? I get into all this in my Ecoholic column on the topic, but I wanted to add a couple bonus reviews to the list. PS definitely check out my Q&A with Environmental Defence’s Maggie MacDonald on their new Pre-Polluted disturbing report on toxins in Canadian umbilical cords, as well as Nature Notes & more in this Ecoholic.

PENATEN DIAPER RASH CREAM: Yes, this old school parental fave has oat extract, sPhoto3hea butter and sunflower oil but it’s also got a lot of other junky synthetics, including suspected endocrine disruptor propyl parabens (see above). Penaten cream (in the tin) isn’t quite as bad since it’s paraben-free, but it’s all petrochemicals as well as allergenic and GMO-heavy soy oil.

WELLSKIN BARRIERE SILICONE SKIN CREAM: This stuff has not just one but four parabens including propyl and butyl parabens banned in Denmark. Come on. It also contains suspect BHT and TEA. A definite thumbs down.

ZINCOFAX: This one’s not as bad as these others, but honestly, you can do better than petroleum by-products as a base for zinc. Live Clean is a safer drugstore pick for zinc fans.

PENNY LANE: If you want a natural zinc cream, Penny Lane makes an awesome one with calendula, chamomile oil, shea butter , beeswax and naturally antiseptic coconut oil. Local, indy, handmade and it works.

LALABEE BOTTOM BALM: This one’s 90% certified organic and vegan (organic olive oil, sunflower oil, calendula/chamomile flowers/lavender flowers and vitamin E). Though not everyone is into lavender in baby stuff – they use less potent lavender flowers over lavender essential oil.

The list could go on and on since there are so many amazing indy bum balms out there. Which one is your fave?




What’s hiding in your wipes?

news-eco-0314_largeTo wipe or not to wipe

I know, I know, wipes are seriously convenient when you’re on the go, but you probably know it’s definitely more sustainable to go the reusable cloth/wipe/rag route. You wipe junkies will have my head if I tell you to axe them from your life permanently, but can we agree to reducing? Let’s try a tradeoff. Cut out disposable wipes from your cleaning routine and home bodycare routine (that means NO using moist wipes instead of TP!) and keep the disposables for when you’re out and about. For the DIY route, an old flannel sheet cut up into squares works beautifully. Now what to look for when you’re shopping for greener wipes? Read the latest Ecoholic column on the topic! Here are a few bonus bits of info.

Rash-worthy ingredients

The thing with wipes is the chemical substances aren’t rinsed off, they get to stay on skin. Not good since so many wipes contain stuff like parabens and serious irritants. Also, just because the wipe says it’s natural, doesn’t mean it’s free of dodgy chemicals.  Huggies Naturals wipes replaced formaldehyde- releasing DMDM hydantoin with methylchloroisothiazolinone/methylisothiazolinone. Not good! Dermatology journals have documented cases of sores, redness and itching on people’s behinds, hands, etc from using moist wipes that contain the preservatives (these bad boys are so irritating they’re on Health Canada’s hotlist of restricted ingredients).

Phenoxyethanol, while really common in paraben-free products like Aleva, can also trigger skin reactions with prolonged contact in some so isn’t desirable in products that stay on the skin. Ditto for cocamidopropyl betaine, which may really irritate some (like my mom!). FYI, phenoxyethanol used to be okayed by some organic certifiers like Ecocert, but Ecocert has since changed its mind.

Don’t believe the biodegradable hype

I’m glad there are so many wipes out there that are offering alternatives to typical petroleum-fibre materials (like polyester, etc), but be aware that if your wipes say they’re made of tree pulp or cellulose fibre, they’re mostly just rayon AKA viscose – yes, your wipes, too. Rayon/viscose fibre is made of tree pulp aka cellulose fibre and, as I say in the column, the Federal Trade Commission cracked down on bamboo rayon companies claiming their materials were biodegradable because, well, nothing biodegrades in your typical North American landfill – and city composters just skims all wipes out. Also processing tree pulp, even bamboo, into a soft fabric like rayon involves a lot of polluting chems. All this to say, your wipes really not going to biodegrade, so let’s try to use less of them. Deal?

The scoop on petroleum jelly

Petroleum jelly

This one’s for all the baby mama, baby daddy and all the other petroleum jelly users out there. Is it safe? Is it sustainable? What should you replace it with? You’ll find the full scoop in the latest Ecoholic column right here.



I’m Dreaming of a Sweatshop-Free Xmas: Craft Show Cruisin’

I love a good craft show. I don’t care if it’s in a church basement, a community hall or a convention centre. They’re the most charming FU to shoddily made, sweatshop-manufacturing, in my opinion. And the One of a Kind Show is really the mother of all seasonal craft shows. The place is so big, it’s sort of like the gifters version of a 5K run. Except on my 5 k, I decided to break half way through and go back in the next day. As promised, I’m reporting back on day 2 of my green finds with all Canadian-made goodies. And let me tell you, I was swamped. So much good green stuff out there!

First off, let me say, that this week’s column in NOW is all about Canadian made toys and I’m happy to report that, yes, they exist. Just inquire at your local independent toy shop/craft show. I stumbled on the

maker of Ontario-carved and crafted Thorpe Toys at the show, making really sweet nontoxic planes, trains and games out of wood leftover from large woodworkers that would have otherwise gone to waste (right). Same goes for Gander & Goose. Cate and Levi’s stuffed sweater animals are always a winner and I love Fidoodle’s DIY creature kits and organic cotton/hemp/wool felt flip dolls that turn into butterflies. Adorable. Plus there was a flutter of ethical baby onesies and blankies by indies like Bamboo Lily (who uses certified organic bamboo/cotton).

Now for my kind of toys: jewellery. Honestly, people, there’s no reason to hit a Birks when there are so many original jewellery makers in this country making one of a kind creations with recycled bit and pieces. On day two, I caught up with antique collector-turned statement piece jewellery designer Tricia at Green Bijou (top, left) and fawned over Overman‘s gorgeous, budget-friendly pieces with recycled watch parts (left; I own one of his necklaces myself and came oh so close to buying another).

In the ‘Bypass Banana Republic and Gift A Local Sweater Instead‘ category, there are so many possilibites. Two of my long time faves for upcycled sweater dresses, mitts and more are People People Clothing (right) and Precocious. Other green Canadian designers to peruse: Device Design Co, Voila by Andreanne, Stand Up Apparel (for Ts) and Hoi Bo, whose designer Sarra Tang and I had a great conversation about her beeswax- waxed bags, organic cotton clothes and the state of the apparel sector. Speaking of bags, Grace Design was in the house offering up pretty handbags out of vintage kimonos – her delicate aesthetic a total contrast to Quebec’s Ressac sexy and sturdy purses, wallets, messenger bags made with recycled bike inner tubes. Also met Quebec’s Veinage doing styly recycled leather purses and belts…oh and for belts (and pretty jewellery), check out Eco Handmade Studio’s recycled glass creations.

And who doesn’t need a good journal for writing/doodling/dreaming? I saw two teenage girls going gaga over these new blank journals made from old books and I’m crushing on Evan Frisque’s adorable Use Me journals made from reclaimed fabrics and designer offcuts (left).

More natural bodycare abounded with brands like All Things Jill and Olive Authentique (love their essential oil home spray – gift it to Febreeze addicts). Handmade soaps galore – even found a 100-mile old fashioned farm soap made with naturally raised, er, pig fat from Honey Pie. Okay, don’t give that one to non-meat eaters such as myself but it’s certainly a goody for the rest of the locavores on your list and avoids the whole palm oil rainforest destruction factor.

All this to say, support your local peeps this holiday season! Head to your nearest craft show, artisanal retailer, indy vendor and ask for goods that are made in Canada (or local to wherever you live) and made green. Trust me, rumours of their demise are greatly exaggerated. (PS One of a Kind Show is on until Sunday the 2nd in Toronto and goes from Dec 6-9 in Chicago).

Scrambled eggs? How fertility and household chemicals mix

What’s with the “new normal”? No, I’m not talking about that new Modern Family-wannabe on NBC, I’m talkin’ 9 year olds with boobs and line-ups at fertility clinics. Yes, screwy fertility is the subject of the latest Ecoholic column (you can give it a read here). From menarche (your first period) to menopause to men’s, um, performance problems, our bodies are definitely breaking old norms – are household chems partly to blame? I explore the link in the column but, as always, there are few things I didn’t get to. For one, the cocktail effect. The EU’s Environment Agency recently came out and said the soup of endocrine disrupting aka hormone disrupting chemicals in cosmetics/food/drugs/household products/pesticides may be contributing to falling fertility, rising cancers, diabetes and obesity. Health Canada, on the other hand, told the Suzuki Foundation when it petitioned HC about the govs lack of action on this front: “relaaax, it’s just a few trace chems.”

Let’s look at some bonus stats. Here in Canada, infertility rates have nearly doubled since the last time the nation’s basal temperature was taken in 1992 (when 8.5% of 18-44 year olds were deemed infertile, up already from 5% in 1984). Oh sure there are a lot of older women trying to get their baby on these days, but push that aside and we’re still having more problems. In 1984 5% of 18-29 year olds were infertile, now we’re talking 7 to 13%. Male infertility and early menopause are also on the rise. And when immigrant girls move to Canada, they too start to get their periods before than their cousins back home. So what’s up??

The mystery factors: whether we’re talking early puberty or adult infertility, there are a lot of potential factors at play. Obesity, smoking, STDs like chlamydia, heavy boozing and chemo can all effect fertility. We know that all of the above compromise our health in complicated ways but things like non-stick chemicals  and spray tans shouldn’t. They should be non-issues, totally risk-free. Alas, nope. A lot of them are hormone disruptors that, yes, mess with our hormones – from nonstick chems blamed for early menopause and infertilility to plastic chems tied to low sperm counts.

Here’s a quick list of hormone disrupting chems to minimize wherever you can in your life:

  • Bisphenol A (largest source: canned food – go for fresh food instead)
  • Phthalates (in soft vinyl, synthetic fragrance – go for unscented)
  • Mercury, lead and other heavy metals (avoid fresh tuna/big fish and get your water tested for lead)
  • Flame retardants (in dust from older stuffed furniture, electronics – dust/vacuum often!)
  • Non-stick chemicals (found in some popcorn bags, fast food wrappers)
  • Beef hormones (eat hormone-free, naturally raised meat.
  • Animal fats (Trim the fat – it stores persistent chems. That means no pork belly for you, hipster/foodies!)
  • Gymes (found carpet cleaners – use natural, nontoxic solutions ie Pink Solution)
  • Pesticides (stick to all natural pest-control)
  • Fake spray tans (just say no – of course, all Hollywood would turn white overnight if they took this advice)

Back 2 school special: avoiding toxin-laced school supplies

I don’t know about you, but I was always a chewer. Whether I was 5 years old or 15, I always ended up gnawing on my erasers/pencils/necklace charms, you name it, while daydreaming or stressing out in class. Not like some kids who nearly ate the things like apples but, no doubt, enough to take in a dose of whatever toxins were in there. And trust me, there were plenty.

California’s Center for Health, Environment and Justice recently sampled 20 vinyl backpacks, lunch bags, 3-ring binders, rain boots and rain coats for their report Hidden Hazards: Toxic Chemicals Inside Children’s Vinyl Back-to-School Supplies and the news wasn’t good.  Turns out 75% of the vinyl school supplies contained hormone-disrupting phthalates at levels that would be illegal in children’s toys. Alarming numbers. Time to tell our MPs to extend phthalate regs so they apply to school supplies.

If you’re looking to avoid the dodgy onslaught of plastics in school supplies, stay away from PVC/vinyl like the plague. It’s often shiny and a little squishy (since it’s been softened with phthalates). Buffalo Natur offers up all kinds of cool stuff from colourful jute backpacks/lunch bags/laptop sleeves to recycled erasers/calculators/coloured pencils, a lot of which are available from Grassroots and a you’ll find a little at Canadian Tire (Buffalo Natur says you’ll soon be able to shop on their site too, so check back in a few weeks). For younger kids, Skip Hop school bags aren’t made of natural or recycled fibres but they are ridiculously cute and BPA-, phthalate-, and PVC-free since they’re made of nylon (see the store locator). Older students can find all sorts of cool back packs made  out of recycled fibres via Onsight Equipment, House of Marley, and from Mountainsmith (via Amazon).

For more tips on going back to school the eco way, check out this Canadian Press article with me and my pal Gill Deacon – hot off the presses.


Back 2 school special: Greener computers, laptop bags & paper

Houe of Marley laptop bag

I haven’t had to take a test or show up late for class for eons now, but I still get a little nervous every August. Yes, it’s back to school time and Ecoholic is here to help you get your supplies sorted out. This latest Ecoholic column gets into the nitty gritty of getting yourself a greener laptop (part of NOW’s broader back to school special). For all the deets on which companies get the green thumbs up or down, give it a read here. You’ll feel better knowing the keys you (and/or your kids) are typing on aren’t laced with toxic BFR flame retardants and leachy plastics. We don’t need more persistent chemicals at our fingertips! Admittedly, even bottom-ranked brands like Acer (which flunked Greepeace’s last report card on greener electronics) do make some greener models (ie Acer’s TM8172 netbook) so do your research.

Need a new laptop bag to keep it safe? There are all kinds of styly eco options on the market now. Canadian-based House of Marley offers this laptop-friendly messenger bag (above) made of hemp, organic cotton and recycled pop bottles. BC’s On Sight Equipment has a great waterproof laptop bag made of recycled PET, but even better for students is their 101 Computer PackBuffalo Natur makes some from recycled jute.

And what are you planning on feeding that new computer? I’m talkin’ paper, people. Computers spit up a lot of dead trees (via printers, of course), all for the sake of homework. I’m a little miffed that a full eight years after I first wrote about school supplies in Ecoholic, most of the so-called “green” printer paper in office supply stores like Grand & Toy and Staples Business Depot are still only 30% recycled content. Come on now! They carry plenty of 100% recycled post-its and file folders so what’s up with the office paper? I love that my local eco shop, Grassroots, carries 100% recycled office paper (100% post consumer recycled). So does Office Depot. Hunt it down. And don’t forget to think before you print, use both sides of the page and go paperless whenever you can.

….More on school supplies (including cute back packs, lunch bags and more), coming soon.